In China, courses to familiarize seniors with technology

by bold-lichterman

We are in 44 after Mao Tse-tung. All Chinese are permanently glued to their cell phones. All? No. The oldest people often stay away from everything Internet, to the point that the state now provides digital remedial courses. At 70, Li Changming has just bought a phone. To learn how to use it, he takes part in a training course organized by the town hall of his district of Chengdu, a metropolis in southwest China. ” I don’t understand all the features yet, but I want to know ”, he explains to AFP. “You are never too old to learn something. “

In front of him, a teacher in a red armband explains how to close an app. He strives to put himself within the reach of his audience with white hair. ” It’s as if there were too many things in the room: we have to tidy up “, he says. Knowing how to use a laptop has become vital in China, where e-commerce has taken on a considerable place (24.3% of the total in the third quarter) and where cash is on the way out. Hence the training effort undertaken by the authorities to familiarize the entire population with online commerce. The payment applications of the essential giants WeChat and Alibaba are present in all businesses, even the smallest. It has become common to see customers paying for their bunch of onions at the market by scanning the merchant’s QR code using a smartphone.

Question of survival

“We cannot live without a cell phone”, summarizes Meng Li, a sexagenarian met in the class of Chengdu and who has just made her first payment online. ” All I could do was make a phone call. And then my daughter explained some things to me and I took classes like today. Now I’m doing it “, she confides. Another objective of the authorities: to support consumption by encouraging the elderly to draw on their savings. In China, retirees should be 300 million in 2025, or practically the population of the United States, and their purchasing power would represent a total of more than 600 billion euros, according to the firm Daxue Consulting.

But if 98% of rural areas are now connected to 4G, nearly a third of the population still does not have access to the Internet… ie 460 million inhabitants. The government therefore called in November to “Strengthen the skills of senior citizens” in the digital domain, through training sessions. Tech companies are encouraged to offer apps that are easy to use by seniors.

Trigger virus

The novel coronavirus epidemic, which hit China earlier this year, underscored the urgency to connect more people. While millions of people found themselves confined for weeks in Wuhan (center) without even being able to do their shopping, only those able to order supplies escaped without risking famine. As a result, more than 36 million people connected to the Internet for the first time between March and June, ie as many potential “e-consumers”.

Since the epidemic, the simple fact of traveling in China requires a certain technological skill: many public places and public transport require that everyone present an app that assesses their epidemiological risk based on their travels and past contacts. In Chengdu, Li Changming is now armed to face the twenty-first century. After his training session, he took a walk to the market, where he took out his glasses and his phone to pay for his chili peppers, essential ingredients of the famous spicy Sichuan cuisine.

Enthusiastic, he says he is ready to browse the rating sites before choosing a restaurant, and use a navigation system to get there. ” I still have a lot to learn: mastering photography with my laptop will be my goal for the next 10 years ”, he promises.